Hands off our training budgets – say UCU


The University and College Union (UCU) on Wednesday called on the government to urgently protect healthcare education funding after MPs warned that delays in introducing new NHS education and training arrangements could see Strategic Healthcare Authorities (SHAs) ‘raid’ training budgets for other purposes.

Responding to a report by the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which criticises the lack of progress made by ministers, the union said there was already evidence of widespread education cuts by SHAs across England:

• From next autumn, NHS London will cut more than 400 adult nursing places and 185 mental health nursing places at universities.

• NHS North of England plans to axe 353 adult nursing places over the next three years in the north west area.

• NHS South West and NHS South East Coast plan to reduce adult nursing provision by over five per cent from next year.

The union said the current process of re-tendering education contracts every three years was increasing uncertainty within the sector.

UCU pointed to the example of the University of West London which was stripped of its nursing education contract by NHS London in January after years of providing training.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The uncertainty about future funding has been incredibly destabilising for health education provision and already there is evidence of SHAs making huge cuts to training places and budgets, driving a boom and bust approach to workforce planning.

‘The government must act urgently to protect education funding or there will be huge consequences for patient care and the future of the NHS workforce.

‘A good first move would be to end the current process of re-tendering contracts, which stops institutions from planning in the long-term.’

Meanwhile, Norfolk community nurses are warning they are struggling to cope and fear the situation will only get worse as more emphasis is placed on treating patients in their own homes.

Their concerns are voiced in a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report being considered by Norfolk councillors this week.

More than two thirds of district nurses who responded to a RCN survey in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire say they are too busy to deliver the quality of care as it should be.

In Norfolk 53 per cent of district nurses, also referred to as community nurses, said they did not agree that they had capacity to visit more patients if needed, with one Norfolk nurse branding the staffing levels as ‘dangerous’.

This compared to 45 per cent in Suffolk and 66 per cent in Cambridgeshire.

The RCN survey results are contained in a report due to be considered by members of the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee at a meeting on Thursday.

The report details concerns that community services do not have the capacity to cope at a time when both the new Health and Social Care Act and NHS ‘efficiency savings’ plans are based on moving patients care out of hospitals into the community.

The RCN report also raises concerns over the mix between qualified, or registered nurses, who are band five and above, as compared to unqualified staff working at bands three and four within community nursing teams.

RCN Eastern region communication officer Andrew Stronach said: ‘Those who are unregistered need some element of supervision and access to registered nurses, which is much harder when they are working in the community than it is in a hospital ward.

‘Increasingly, patients are having more complex problems as well and we are worried that the mix is moving towards tipping it the wrong way and relying overly on health care assistants.’

The RCN Eastern survey, for which there was 139 responses, showed that three of the 27 who responded in Norfolk said there was not a qualified district nurse in their team, while for Cambridgeshire this was four out of 14, and for Suffolk, three out of 16.

The original skill-mix within community nursing and therapy teams in Norfolk is now 57 per cent qualified staff and 43 per cent unqualified staff, down from 60 per cent qualified staff to 40 per cent unqualified staff.

In Norfolk, one nurse told the RCN: ‘The dangerous levels of staffing currently experienced needs to be seriously addressed and incident reports need to be acknowledged. District nursing is currently a very stressful area to work and care delivery is unfortunately compromised.’

l The University and College Union (UCU) said on Tuesday that Nick Clegg’s warm words on social mobility were to be welcomed, but that key policy decisions were denying people from the poorest backgrounds access to education and the chance to better themselves.

The union questioned how moves by the coalition government, including increasing the cost of a university degree, axing vital grants for college students and forcing anyone aged 24 and over to take out huge loans to pay for college courses, could possibly help people get on in life.

The UCU said it was wrong to attack university admissions staff when the government had removed funding for outreach programmes.

The union said while there may not be a silver bullet to improve social mobility, it felt education was the best option we have and such punitive policies would eradicate any warm words or fine sentiments from ministers.

The UCU concluded that perhaps the greatest threat to social mobility in this country at present is government policies.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Nick Clegg has consistently made positive noises about the importance of social mobility and it would be unfair to suggest it is not something he feels strongly about.

‘However, his warm words will never be a substitute for government policies that would genuinely help the poorest people in society access education.

‘It is disappointing to hear once again that university admissions staff are under attack, especially when they are doing such a difficult job in a climate where funding for outreach programmes has been axed.

‘Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to social mobility. However, we have seen university fees rocket, vital college grants axed and now plans to force young adults to take out huge loans if they wish to return to education.

‘It is difficult not to conclude that the greatest threat to social mobility at present is this government’s punitive policies.’

Commenting on Nick Clegg’s speech, Family Action Chief Executive Helen Dent said: ‘A coalition is not an excuse for a lack of joined up government.’

She added: ‘We’re deeply concerned social mobility will take a battering as a result of welfare cuts and tax changes which government have introduced.

‘As our “mind the gap” report shows early intervention will make a limited difference to the outcomes of the poorest children unless its backed by effective welfare support including housing from babyhood.

‘Family Action is suggesting Social Mobility indicators of our own including: being born into a household with decent permanent accommodation, having a mother in good mental health, having a particular number of words in vocabulary before children are two years old, parents with qualifications and a parent in a full time job paying 60 per cent of median income (above the poverty level).’